[lg policy] Kasakhstan to institute comprehensive unilingual language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 18 15:30:19 UTC 2010


Kasakhstan to institute comprehensive unilingual language policy
13 Aug 2010 Laas Leivat

Kazakhstan’s proposed language policy would have 95% of its residents
speaking the Kazakh language by 2020. In addition all official
government, businees and cultural communication would be conducted in
Kazakh, a member if the Turkic language group.

Although, officially Kazakh has always been considered to be the state
language, the Russian language has had official “equal” status. In
fact, practically all of the important aspects of offialdom have been
conducted in the Russian language, because the elite of the country
received their education and training in Russian during the Soviet
period. Officials who are tested for Kazakh language proficiency do
not fail the exam, no matter how poor their knowledge of the Kazakh
language may be. It’s the examination certificate that matters, not
the actual language skill of the official.

Supporters of trhe new direction are resolute: At a recent language
conference, academic Mõrzatai Sergalijev stated that, taking Estonia
as an example, education officials or school directors who don’t know
the Kazakh language should be fired. He added that it’s unacceptable
that, a Ruusian ‘genetleman’ who demands that bus stops on public
transport should be announced in Russian, should either leave the
country or miss his bus stop.

Kazakhstan, a country of 16 million, with a 63% indigenous popluation,
has 24% of its residents as Russian. The country’s extensively
multicultural, because Stalin’s deportation policy brought millions of
non-Kazakhs to Kazakhstan. It covers an area equivalent to Europe.
Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million has some 25% of its
residents as ethnic Russian.

Estonia, however, is handling the language issue with kids gloves if
compared to Kazakhstan’s newly announced plans and if contrasted with
Quebec’s stance on unilingualism.

Estonia has instituted a gradual transition to the Estonian language
in the 63 Russian speaking schools still operating. There has been a
marked decrease in the size of the Russian student population. In the
near future, this is predicted to drop below 5000. Some 10% of ethnic
Russian students are now attending Estonian speaking schools.

It seems that the slow but inevitable consolidation of Estonian as the
only vernacular language of the country is fulfilling the intention of
at least those who helped re-establish Estonia’sa independence and who
had survived deliberate Russification as foreseen by the Kremlin. This
motivation probably derived from an understandable survival instinct.

Yet there are several international organizations, including Amnesty
International, who fail to understand the necessity for preserving a
small, but thriving culture amidst a multi-lingual Europe where the
English-French-German presence is prevalent and dominant.
They also fail to realize that it was only a few short years ago, when
one could meet policemen, physicians and some other government workers
whose knowledge of the the country’s native tongue did not exist. In
fact a few ethnic Russian teachers assigned to teach Estonian grammar
in Russian schools could not converse in Estonian.

It will be intereasting to observe how Moscow and the international
community react to Kazakhstan’s new lanuage policy. Kazakhstan and
Estonia are both considered to be part of Rusasia’s ‘near abroad’ as
determined by Moscow. Can Kazakhstan’s initial determination bear the
brunt of Russian displeasure or will it be forced to find a compromise
acceptable to the Kremlin? Time will tell.


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